I was out in Los Angeles last weekend and had to do some quick revisions on my thesis because I had a short amount of time to write but wanted to get work done. It is hard to look at your work objectively sometimes, but here are some quick tips for when you are revising to learn to police your own work.1. Make sure you have followed the guidelines. Whether it is for a specific journal or class, make sure that your work is the right length or has the right elements in it that you have been assigned. If you are submitting, your work won’t be looked at if it does not follow guidelines.
2. Look for common words. I will do a read-through of my own work and put a box around any repeated word. I’ll do this with a different colored pen for setting and place on a second read-through. When the word is used too often, I challenge myself to find new ways to say the same thing. A lot of times, this is where the poetry comes into a piece.[flickr id=”10457441796″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”medium” group=”” align=”none”]
3. Plot outline. After a few reads, outline the plot. What happens on each page? Does the action flow from a cause directly before it? Do things progress naturally? If there isn’t much of a plot on the outline, sometimes I reconsider what needs to happen in the piece. If it doesn’t make sense, I find ways to make the reactions stem from the actions and then become their own actions for the next reaction.
4. Read out loud. Trust me… you will find places in your work that just need help. You catch them when you hear them out loud and say, “Wait, what? I wrote that? Why? I need to revise…” Then, do the revisions.
5. Get the work in “Clean Copy” format. This means, edit it for mechanics and grammar and format. If a piece does not look professional (inconsistent formatting, improper grammar and mechanics, run-on sentences), many journals will not consider the piece, even if it is brilliant. Invest in a good guide–many are out there at the bookstore. Find one that is easy to read for you (I like the ones that have few words per page but have pictures in them).
These are QUICK tips. This can still take 5-8 hours. The hardest part about writing is rewriting, so by policing your work like this, it’s like you’re doing a quick triage of revision to your piece. Use this method when you have to, but of course, spend as much time revising as possible until you feel the work stands on its own.